SocraticGadfly: David Halberstam’s last words on Bush

July 18, 2007

David Halberstam’s last words on Bush

From Vanity Fair. Although this is not his lede, it certainly could be:
Those who know history best tend to be tempered by it. They rarely refer to it so sweepingly and with such complete confidence. They know that it is the most mischievous of mistresses.

It’s actually a quarter of the way through the article, which should whet your appetite for the beginning, as Halberstam, with his special style, demolishes President Bush in particular and this administration in general:
We are a long way from the glory days of Mission Accomplished, when the Iraq war was over before it was over — indeed before it really began — and the president could dress up like a fighter pilot and land on an aircraft carrier, and the nation, led by a pliable media, would applaud. Now, late in this sad, terribly diminished presidency, mired in an unwinnable war of their own making, and increasingly on the defensive about events which, to their surprise, they do not control, the president and his men have turned, with some degree of desperation, to history. In their view Iraq under Saddam was like Europe dominated by Hitler, and the Democrats and critics in the media are likened to the appeasers of the 1930s. The Iraqi people, shorn of their immensely complicated history, become either the people of Europe eager to be liberated from the Germans, or a little nation that great powerful nations ought to protect. Most recently in this history rummage sale—and perhaps most surprisingly—Bush has become Harry Truman.

We have lately been getting so many history lessons from the White House that I have come to think of Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the late, unlamented Rumsfeld as the History Boys. They are people groping for rationales for their failed policy, and as the criticism becomes ever harsher, they cling to the idea that a true judgment will come only in the future, and history will save them.

Ironically, it is the president himself, a man notoriously careless about, indeed almost indifferent to, the intellectual underpinnings of his actions, who has come to trumpet loudest his close scrutiny of the lessons of the past. …

I am deeply suspicious of these (claims). We have, after all, come to know George Bush fairly well by now, and many of us have come to feel—not only because of what he says, but also because of the sheer cockiness in how he says it—that he has a tendency to decide what he wants to do first, and only then leaves it to his staff to look for intellectual justification.

Halberstam goes on to note he finds it easy to shoot down Bush’s Truman-self comparison, in part because he has a book about the Korean War, “The Coldest Winter,” due out in September. From there, he looks at the Iraq-Vietnam analogy and much more.

It’s as to be expected, a Halberstam tour de force. The last graf I quoted indicates Bush has an almost-childlike stubbornness about the need to get his own way.

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